Sunday, June 22, 2008

Heartbreak In Amderstam

Usually, heartbreak in Amsterdam is related to realizing that the sex worker doesn't really love you, or that hashish doesn't make you funnier than you normally are.

But in even numbered years, Heartbreak in Amsterdam comes when the Netherlands lay an egg in a major soccer Tournament. Which they have done every single time they have been in a major tournament, aside from that one Euro Cup when Marco Van Basten stole victory in the closing moments with a crazy awesome volley.

Russia beat Holland 3-1 yesterday in the thrid quarterfinal game of the Euro Cup. The score suggests asskicking, but please note: the game went to overtime. Yes, it took a miracle goal from Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the closing minute (with some help from a curiously disinterested defense from Russia--they were awful on dead ball situations all day) to send the game into overtime.

But usually, (I'm guessing here) the team that scores late to send a game to overtime goes on to win. They have the momentum, the other team has seen their victory snatched from them. And it felt that exact way. Russia scored early in the second half, and deservedly so, as they had been the better team. With about 15 minutes left to play, they sank into the bullshit defensive, counterattacking shell that I hate so much, and sure enough, the Dutch were able to get back in the game, with Sneijder taking shots from distance, winning a corner, and causing more chaos than they had in the previous 70 minutes.

Holland didn't look like a team with the reserves to win in the first half of the overtime period, and in the second half, they looked damned out of sorts--Van Brockhorst watched a guy run to the far post to score a goal he could have probably stopped if he hadn't stopped running, and in the closing minutes, the Holland defense let Arshavin get behind them on a fucking throw-in. A Throw-In! Reminder for Dutch Defenders: There is no offside on throw-ins, you have to play behind a guy in that situation, especially when he is a very creative #10 like Arshavin.

And hey, maybe if we all watched Russian Professional football last year, we wouldn't be so surprised by Arshavin. His highlight reel of 2007 is as good as anyone's was.

That said, Russia will be my dark horse in the Semis, mainly because their strikers have a nose for goal, and Andrei Arshavin is a complete revelation. He will soon be snorting coke off of stripper's asses in Madrid, or pretending to find Manchester women attractive, or something.

So, this far into the Quarterfinals, I have yet to get a game right, mainly because I've gone with the favorite every single time. Portugal bounced by Germany isn't a huge upset; Turkey beating Croatia doesn't seem shocking to me, but the way they did it was; Russia beating Holland is a huge upset (though I do believe I expressed some concern about Holland's defense). So clearly, with one game left, there is only way to go--with the underdog.

But when talking about Italy vs Spain, who is really the Underdog? Hard to say. Italy had looked fairly pedestrian until their last game. Spain has looked spectacular, but it is Spain, a country known for crashing and burning for the last 30 years at least. I'm taking Spain, and the main reason is that there will be a huge talent hole in the middle of Italy's line-up. No Gattuso, No Pirlo, who both racked up too many yellow cards. Gattuso is no surprise, but Pirlo I think of as being a bit more of a subtle defender/fouler. But make no mistake--losing these two guys deprives Italy of their best Midfield "digger" in Gattuso (that term being used to designate a guy who does the dirty work that sometimes springs a counter-attack) and in Pirlo they simply lose their best free kick taker, their captain on defense, and their best Steve Nash Imitator.

Betting against the Italians has proven costly for me in the past, and betting on the Spainiards has never, ever worked out for anybody, ever. They are classic choke artists. But this team does feel different. Villa, Torres and the guy coming of the bench for some reason, Fabregas all help this team be more confident, and more dangerous than it has been in the past. I will not be surprised if the Spainairds win this game because of a Second Yellow Card on someone in the Italian defense. I think the Spanish midfield controls this game, and the Italians miss their guys who are on suspension. I also won't be surprised if Italy goes with the Classic Italy approach, which would be to play for a 0-0 tie, and let penalty kicks decide it. I hope they don't, but I won't be surprised if they do.

Again, I'm going with what I think is the safe route, which has led me to 0-3 on predictions. So how safe is the safe route, anyway? Let's hope for an early goal from Spain to make this game as interesting as possible. Even Italian fans don't really want an early Italy goal; not if they love football.

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